A photo of a one-way sign that reads "Plan A" except "A" is crossed out and in its place is "B."

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It turns out that preparing for the possibility of failure can actually increase the possibility of failure. Professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that creating backup plans can actually result in people putting less effort into their primary plan. The logic seems to be that, if you have a backup plan, you don’t have to work as hard to succeed at your goal, which in turn means you succeed less often, and become reliant on the backup plan.

Researchers are careful to note that backup plans are not a bad idea as they can provide plenty of benefits. However, there are some definite downsides that are just now beginning to surface. Studies show that the likelihood of failure is more prominent when the goal in question requires effort and cannot be achieved through luck alone. But researchers also note that the key isn’t to avoid backup plans, but to learn when to form them so that they don’t interfere with the chances of success.

The point of this study isn’t to rid oneself of all contingency plans, but to be aware that sometimes, a contingency plan is preparing for, and expecting, failure. Backup plans are merely the manifestation of a fear of failure. Of course, more research needs to be done on the subject matter, but there are still some gems of wisdom that can be gleaned from this. For example, contingency plans are better for situations in which the person has zero control over the outcome. If there is a large luck element, or something beyond one’s control such as the stock market, then having a backup plan is less likely to impact one’s chances of success. But if the key to achieving a goal is 100% personal effort, then a backup plan is likely to backfire.